With the introduction of 54 European teams, UEFA became the last confederation to kickstart the Road to Russia. Every country’s journey towards the World Cup in 2018 has begun with almost half of them, 102, out of contention for a place in the finals, nearly two years prior to the start of the tournament.
Apart from Russia, who qualify by virtue of being hosts, a total of 210 teams will battle it out across six continents for 31 spots in the world’s largest sporting extravaganza. Five times champions Brazil are the only nation to have qualified for all the World Cups.
It's a complex process, with the qualifying rounds being played in different formats in different parts of the world.
Africa: 54 nations, 5 spots
On March 12, 2015, FIFA had announced that the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) had been expelled from the preliminary competition of the World Cup qualifiers following the non-payment of outstanding debt to coach Jose Claudinei Georgini.
As a result only 53 nations are taking part in the qualification process.
First round: Team ranked 28-53 in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) play home and away legs to decide 13 winners qualifying for the second round.
Second round: The top 27 teams and 13 qualifiers from the first round play another series of home and away legs to select 20 countries for the third and final round.
Third round: The 20 teams are divided into five groups of four teams. Each team plays against every other team home and away. The five group winners qualify for Russia 2018.
The first two rounds of CAF qualification have finished and the third round starts on October 3. The 20 teams in the fray are: Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia, Cape Verde Islands, Egypt, Congo DR, Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, Morocco, Guinea, South Africa, Congo, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Gabon, and Libya.
Asia: 46 nations, 4 or 5 spots
The preliminary qualification rounds of the World Cup qualification in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) also serve as the qualifiers for the 24-member AFC Cup to be played in 2019.
First round: 12 teams ranked 35-46 in the AFC play two-legged ties against each other to advance to the second round.
Second round: 40 teams, including the top 34 associations and six first-round winners are divided into eight groups of five each, to play in a round-robin format within each group. Eight group winners and four best placed group runners-up will advance.
Third round: The 12 teams from the second round are divided into two groups of six in another round-robin league. The top two teams from each group qualify for the World Cup, whereas the third-placed teams play against each other in an AFC play-off.
The winner of this match plays against the fourth placed team from the North American region. The winner of that game qualifies for the World Cup.
At the time of writing, 34 teams have been eliminated, and only 12 teams from Asia remain in contention, playing in the third round. They are: Iran, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, China PR, Qatar, Iraq, Syria, and Thailand. The third round groups are yet to be constituted.
Europe: 54 nations, 13 spots
With Gibraltar and Kosovo the newest entrants into UEFA, nine groups of six teams each play home-and-away round-robin matches.
The group winners get a direct entry into the World Cup. The eight best runners-up teams qualify for the play-offs, where they compete in two-legged knockout ties to seal a spot in the finals for the winner of each.
UEFA qualification for Russia started on September 3 and each team plays ten matches in the group stage.
North America: 35 nations, 3 or 4 spots
Three direct spots and one inter-confederation play-off spot are available to the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
First round: Teams ranked 22-35 in the CONCACAF region play two-leg matches against each other to qualify for the second round.
Second round: Seven winners from the first round and 13 teams ranked 9-21 in the North American region play home and away over two legs. Ten teams go through to the next round.
Third round: The nations ranked 7th and 8th join 10 second-round winners to play another set of two-legged knockout ties to send six winners through to the fourth and penultimate round.
Fourth round: The top six teams in the region plus six third-round winners are split into three groups of four teams in a round-robin format. The top two teams of each group go through.
Fifth round: Six teams from the fourth round form one group known as “The Hexagonal” or simply, “The Hex.” Each team plays against the other five in a round-robin format. The top three qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth-placed team plays against the winner of the AFC playoff match.
The competition is currently into its fifth and final round. The teams in the Hex this time around: United States, Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Oceania: 11 nations, 0 or 1 spot
The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) is the youngest of the confederations, founded in 1966 and is the only confederation without a guaranteed qualifying spot.
Only four teams from the OFC have qualified in 13 attempts at the World Cup, a task which became tougher after Australia joined the AFC in 2006, leaving New Zealand as the largest federation left in Oceania.
First round: Four teams ranked 8-11 in OFC play a round-robin tournament, with three matches each. The winner advances to the next round.
Second round: This round also serves as the first round of the OFC Nations Cup with the top seven teams in the OFC joining the first round winner to compete in two groups of four each. The top three teams from each group qualify for the next round of qualification, with the top two from each group also qualifying for the OFC Nations Cup semi-finals.
Third round: The six qualifying teams from round two play in two groups of three each, with home-and-away matches.
The two group winners contest a two legged play-off to decide the winner of the Oceanian qualification process, who face off against the fifth-placed team in South American qualification for a World Cup spot.
Six Oceanian teams are still alive on the road to Russia with the third round of qualification starting on November 7: Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua-New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tahiti.
South America: 10 nations, 4 or 5 spots
Venezuala are the only team from the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL) – the South American Football Confederation, not to qualify for the World Cup.
In the simplest but the toughest of the qualifying formats, each of the ten countries plays the other nine twice, making it 18 matches in all. Four of the 10 – Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Chile – were ranked in the top 10 of the world rankings, at the start of the qualification process with the rest within the top 70.
The top four qualify for the World Cup directly with the fifth placed team playing the winner of the Oceania Football Confederation qualifying competition.
Uruguay currently lead the standings after match day 8 with Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador occupying the next four spots. The other teams are Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela.